The Everton right-back has joined the ailing Parkhead club on a six-month loan deal and is expected to go straight into the team for the visit to Kilmarnock. Neil Lennon’s men are in dire need of a tonic following the poisonous display that condemned them to a 2-1 defeat at home to St Mirren. Former Celtic defender Stubbs, who coached Kenny for two years in the Goodison Park’s development set-up before he became Hibernian manager, believes Kenny could be all of that.
Stubbs positively rhapsodies about what the 22-year-old can bring to Celtic, both on and off the pitch, as a signing made to fill the right-back berth created by Jeremie Frimpong’s £11.5m move to Bayer Leverkusen – the very Bundesliga where Kenny impressed last season on loan with struggling Schalke.
A dream in training
“He is a brilliant lad, an absolute diamond,” said Stubbs. “I just can’t speak highly enough of him as a person. He is so enthusiastic, so infectious. I loved coaching him, and would go as far as to say he is probably the player that gave me greater enjoyment than any other in my time at Everton. He brought it all, every day. He had such a zeal for playing and training. If a session was going off track, he would be the one who would say ‘come on, we need to switch on here’ and bring people on-side with a winning smile and just a great way about him.
“He wouldn’t allow others to feel sorry for themselves, but at the same time would be the first to put his arm round the shoulder of a team-mate if they’d had a bad session. He lifts people and that could be good for Celtic right now. He is a big game performer. He may be coming in at a difficult time, but he will relish the opportunity to play for such a massive club.
“I think it is a real coup for Celtic, frankly. I could tell you what he can’t do … but that wouldn’t take long. He isn’t as quick as Frimpong, but he is a better player. He is a better crosser and has a great appreciation of how the game is played. He has that special football intelligence. So while he might not have tremendous pace, he makes up for that with his game sense. As the saying goes, the first five yards are played in the head.”
From England U-19s to Schalke
Kenny, of an Irish heritage that has provided him with a certain affection for Celtic, has been stymied at Goodison Park through the consistent excellence of Republic of Ireland full-back Seamus Coleman. He had loan spells with Wigan and Oxford in his late teens and was a crucial member of the England Under-19 team that claimed the 2017 under-20s World Cup. The success followed Kenny having been named in the team of the tournament when England snare the 2014 Under-17s European Championships.
He had a long run in the Everton senior side under Ronald Koeman across the 2017/18 season, and was then regarded to have a superior delivery from wide areas to his more illustrious counterpart. A smattering of appearances followed the next season. However, he was then restless for regular first-team action, and that took him to Schalke – "It doesn't matter how much you train, how hard you work, you need game-time,” he said at the time – where he more than achieved this aim. He was an instant first pick and started 35 times, missing out only a handful of times through slight ailments, before being returned to bit-part status on Merseyside for the first six months of this season.
Kenny lacks physicality, but not aggression and desire, and Stubbs sees those as invaluable components of his footballing make-up. “He is one of those 5ft 9in guys who plays 6ft 1in. He is much better in the air than he ought to be, because he doesn’t go for headers just in the hope of giving his opponent a dunt, but goes in to win the ball. His awareness means he can stay one step ahead and that helps him take the right option if he gets into trouble. He is always looking to make things happen. He doesn’t play aimless balls down the line, but has the bravery and nous to look to pick out team-mates with more telling in-field passes.”
What the new boss makes of him
Lennon’s take on Kenny suggests he knows exactly what he is getting in the loanee full-back. “It’s always good to see a fresh face,” said the Celtic manager. “It brightens up the morning with fresh blood in and we had a good [Monday] morning. He’s a bona-fide right back. I’ve followed his career for a while. He’d a really good time with the England development teams. I watched him at Schalke last year and thought he played very, very well in a struggling team. Over the lockdown period when we could watch plenty of German football, I thought he showed plenty of quality, character and enthusiasm for the game. I think he’ll bring all that here.”
And Lennon believes it is no risk to ask him to bring that within 48 hours of pitching up at Lennoxtown. “He was on the bench for Everton [in their 2-0 defeat by Newcastle] on Sunday,” he said. “And travelled up after that. With him then training up here, he is ready to play.” Stubbs is sure to be watching with interest.
A message from the Editor: Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.